Someone’s Been Living in an Alternate Reality Again

Ho, hum, another day, another dumbfuck claiming atheists have no basis for morality. I see Avi’s given them a right proper fisking. Good thing he’s a good writer, because this shallow shite’s points look like they came off an apologetics-for-assclowns site. Oh, my heck, does our Avi have patience. I’d’ve chucked this garbage in the trash after the first paragraph. This is just so century before last – ooo, what’s this?

3. A Moral, Simple and Convincing Justification for moral compasses

But it may surprise the reader to learn that a universal and convincing justification does indeed exist. One that is grounded neither in the coercive power of fear of punishment in the hereafter (as offered by most religions), nor in man’s selfishness (as attempted by some secular ethicists). One that is already available to approximately a third of the world’s population. The secular inability to justify the various secular moral compasses is in stark contrast with this moral, simple and extremely convincing justification.

No hellfire-and-damnation? No eternal reward? But not secular? Omigosh, whatever could this magic justification be?!


Spill it!

What is this justification if not heaven or hell, you may ask?

I just did! What, you want it notarized? It’s already in writing. Sheesh.

What is able to thoroughly justify an unselfish moral message of neighbourly love? One that promises no selfish reward, yet seems capable of propelling many of its followers to selflessly disregard their own well-being in their efforts to improve the lives of the poor, the ill and the downtrodden in the most backward parts of the world?  What if not the fear of hell or the reward of heaven can propel one to act in this way? Why ever disregard your own wellbeing for the benefit of others?

What’s this reminding me of? Oh, right.

Heffer and Filburt encounter difficulties whilst dressing up as Mr. Bighead. Just one of the countless delights that awaits those who watch Nickelodeon's Rocko's Modern Life, now available on Amazon Instant Video! WOOT!

Heffer and Filburt encounter difficulties whilst dressing up as Mr. Bighead. Just one of the countless delights that awaits those who watch Nickelodeon’s Rocko’s Modern Life, now available on Amazon Instant Video! WOOT! Click the photo for the cartoon with a quote for every situation.

Heffer: This guy’s asking too many questions! What do I do?

Filburt: I don’t know… mmmmmm… Punch him!

Nah. Awesome episode, but one must not take (many) life lessons from cartoon shows, no matter how great. Violence isn’t the proper response to a pompous arsemunch. My moral compass is pointing due-Exit. These flip-flops are made for walkin’, which is what I’ll do if Doofus doesn’t get to the point soon.

This non-coercive, moral, simple and extremely convincing justification seems unique to none other than the Christian message and faith.


The primary justification of the moral compass from the Christian message seems neither to be fear of God nor that of hell.

Stahp! STAHP! Owowow my ribs!

*snifflesnortwheeze* Woah nellie, you sure are a hoot! That’s some premium comedy right there, I mean, wow, I can’t even – what, what, you’re serious?

This makes Christianity quite distinct from other religions that usually hold this coercive type of justification only.


skeptical cat

You know, that’s an interesting interpretation of the subject, but the founders of Christianity would like a word with you.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” - Matthew 3:11-12


“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” - Matthew 7:19


“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” - Matthew 10:28


“Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!” - Matthew 13:40-43


“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.” - Mark 9:43-48


The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. - Mark 16:16

That Jesus Christ fella was a real shit, always running around and threatening non-believers with eternal torture, and dangling a nice, shiny Heaven in front of the sheeple who’d swallow his shit whole. He’s clearly got nothing to do with Christiani – oh, dear. Apparently he does.

Also, too, and furthermore, it looks like a lotta Bible-believing churches didn’t get the memo about “grounded neither in the coercive power of fear of punishment in the hereafter… nor in man’s selfishness.”

Church sign: Where will you be sitting in eternity? Smoking or non-smoking

Image via Postkiwi.

Billboard: Without Jesus Christ (image of pitchfork) You'll spend eternity with Me! (image of Satan)

Image via Mindspring.

Church sign: I kissed a girl and I liked it. Then I went to Hell.

via Lucien Maverick’s Blog.

Church sign: Son screen prevents sin burn.

via Jonathan Sigmon

Billboard: It's your choice... heaven or Hell. Read John 3:36

via Friendly Atheist

Ah. Right. John 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” Yes, very… “grounded neither in the coercive power of fear of punishment in the hereafter… nor in man’s selfishness,” that.

Gee. I wonder what Jesus would say about those signs?

Buddy Christ via eBaum's World.

Buddy Christ via eBaum’s World.

Considering the dude was always on about “fire” this and “wailing and gnashing of teeth” that, I don’t imagine he’d have any concerns.

Look, I could go on for the rest of the year with the awful Bible verses and shit Jesus spewed – believe me, it wouldn’t be difficult to find Christian after Christian who’s firmly convinced that we’ll get rewarded or punished by Big Skydaddy depending on whether we slobber on Junior’s sandals adequately or not. Plenty more who’ll tell you there’s a hell and a heaven, and your good and bad acts determine which you end up in. People have been converted to Christianity, kept trapped in it, by that particular carrot-stick combo. So don’t try to sell me this bullshit about Christianity having some amazing unique non-coercive moral rationale, because it’s coercive as shit. I can’t help it if you happen to be an assnugget with severe reading comprehension problems and a talent for convincing yourself that up is down and strong-arm is gentle persuasion. But don’t come around to atheists and try to sell that rancid pile of rotten fish, unless of course you like having your nose rubbed in it. Capisce?

Here endeth the lesson. Have a nice day.

Ron Lindsay’s Extraordinary Bullshit Part III: A Fine Fuck You

Dear CfI Board of Directors:

I’ve spent the day attempting to determine what I could compare your moral courage to. However, each and every candidate has turned out to have more moral courage than you, up to and including John McCain and William Dembski. Even Enron showed more sense. I’ve seen corporations deny responsibility. I’ve seen not-pologies that require a dictionary of corporate-speak to decipher. I’ve seen organizations run from mistakes. But this is the first time I have ever witnessed a statement written by people too oblivious to even mention what interested parties told them repeatedly had caused distress, and then have the audacity to blame the injured parties for the injury dealt them. That’s private-health-insurance-quality fuckery, that.

You couldn’t even muster a “We’re sorry you were offended.” There’s weak tea, and then there’s water some ratfuckers are attempting to pass off as Earl Grey. In case you really are that bloody stupid, I shall inform you that your concoction is the latter. As esteemed Pharyngula commenter Tom Foss said, “It’s a homeopathic statement. So little content as to be nonexistent, diluted among so many words.” Not even a single molecule of apology remained when you were done.


I have to say, I’m impressed. I expected you to weasel out of doing anything more than playfully smack Ron’s hand and say, “He’s very outspoken, isn’t he? We’re sorry you were offended. Perhaps you should try not being offended in the future.” What I didn’t expect was for you to go full-metal-fuck-you. I mean, really. You expected “The CFI Board wishes to express its unhappiness with the controversy surrounding the recent Women in Secularism Conference 2″ to pass muster with several conferences’ worth of outraged feminist skeptics? Were you banking on all of us suffering an acute onset of gullibility? Did you think we spent our weekend getting beaten with the Credulous Stick? Because it didn’t happen.

You had one simple task: say sorry. Say, “We apologize. In retrospect, we realize this could have been handled better. We support WiS and the women in our community, and commit to WiS3.” That’s it. If you wanted to avoid plastering Ron’s name to this apology, you could have done. We’d have remained angry, and many of us would have walked, but at least a few wavering supporters would have swallowed that semi-apology whole. With time and no further fuckups, even those of us who had walked might have moseyed back.

What you chose instead was the equivalent of a country dropping a tactical nuke on the upset nation next door, preferring years of radioactive fallout to a simple sorry. In what universe does this possibly make sense? Is it a universe in which love is expressed with a sharp knife in the back? Because I felt the distinct sting of cold steel when I read your statement. And I toasted some s’mores in the flames from the bridges you burnt.

I now know what sort of organization you are. You are the kind of organization that will ignore years of determined harassment in the interests of some mythical unity. You are the kind of people that will pay lip service to women while embracing their abusers. You would rather blame everything that happened on the people who were offended and the conference they attended rather than admit for one instant that your CEO did the slightest thing wrong. You are the kind of people who believe the Supreme Leader must never sully his lips with an apology. And you are the kind of people who either believe skeptic women are stupid enough to accept your statement as a proper close to this painful chapter, and if we turn out to be smarter than that, you figure you can do without us.

We’ll be happy to watch you try.


I do hope you enjoy the fickle support of your new best friends. One set of backstabbing fuckwads deserves another, I always say. As for those brilliant and dedicated CfI employees caught in this crossfire, I do hope they find more welcoming shores very soon. It would be a shame watching them waste their talent trying to save an organization that will soon represent only the oblivious and the reprehensible.

I look forward to seeing Secular Woman, American Atheists, the Secular Student Alliance, and the American Humanist Association, among a plethora of others, benefit hugely from CfI’s failure to display even minimal decency and astounding inability to display even the slightest sense of self-preservation. I know where my dollars shall be going. I also know which organization I will never, ever support in the slightest.

You had your chance. You failed.


Dana Hunter

Hey, Richard Dawkins! Women Aren’t Invisible

So stop treating us like we are.

Really, you only seem to notice women when you can use them to conveniently bludgeon religions. You’re super-concerned about how women are treated in the Muslim world because Islam. You call the Judeo-Christian god a “misogynistic…bully,” because hey, great point of attack, amirite? So women might get the idea you’re on their side, but when it counts, when we’re fighting against sexism and misogyny in the atheist community, you “Dear Muslima” us. When it comes to abortion rights, you’re more for pigs and parasites than you are women. You don’t see us, actual human beings with fundamental rights to bodily autonomy and respect. You see a rhetorical device. And you don’t even seem to be aware you’re doing it. I hope you’re not. I hope you’re not the kind of man who would deliberately erase a woman from the picture. But unintententional or no, that’s precisely what you’re doing.

How the religious right (and, later in pregnancy, Richard Dawkins) view pregnant women. All they can see is a fetus.

How the religious right (and, later in pregnancy, people like Richard Dawkins) view pregnant women. All they can see is a fetus.

Do you know who else erases women? The right-wing anti-abortion fanatics. They’re more thorough about it than you are, but you’re no slouch. I mean, look what happened when a woman tried to correct you on the fetuses-feel-pain thing:

You can see the full tweet stream, with awesome commentary, courtesy of Znikki at Storify. I encourage you to read the whole thing, because it is particularly relevant that Znikki sent actual scientific studies to correct Dawkins’ position and he ignored both her and the studies while responding to her husband.

Isn’t that interesting? I wonder why your eyes would edit out a female so easily. Oh, I’m certain you treat the women you know quite well, and you believe in equality and all that. You’re at least willing to grant a woman control over her body up until that mythical point when a fetus comes to feel pain, which is better than the anti-abortion zealots who banish women from the equation from the get-go, but you still have trouble with seeing women as complete, autonomous human beings. Your gaze slides right past them to the fetus parasitizing them, or the male they’re married to. Perhaps you should stop and ask yourself why that is.

You know what? I had to ask myself the same thing. Yeah, really. Even thought I’m a woman, I had a distressing tendency to fall for sexist tropes and erase my own gender from the picture. Good people brought me up short and forced me to reexamine certain of my assumptions. It wasn’t easy, but it’s easier than treating half the population on planet Earth as if they’re no more than incubators and rhetorical devices.

But I get it. I’m not being facetious: I really do get it. It’s hard. You’re a male, you’ve not got the anatomy necessary to ever be at risk for pregnancy. You don’t spend all day every day trying to avoid becoming a rape statistic. It’s hard to walk in other people’s shoes, I grant you that. So here’s a little thought exercise to help you out:

A fanatical Jain sect gains ground. One of their major beliefs is that killing parasites is murder. That sect controls nearly every aspect of the culture you live in. They support political parties and influence the laws of the land. You can’t escape their influence. And some of their ideas regarding parasites are pretty scary for anyone who could become infested.

  • The most radical ones say you can’t take medicine that would kill or evacuate parasite eggs before they implant.
  • Even the milder Jain sects say you must allow the parasite to mature within you, no matter how burdensome. Some make exceptions for life of the host, but in practice, hosts (that’s possibly you!) have died because doctors refuse to remove the parasites – even though not doing so means both the parasite and the person dies.
  • Many Jains think parasites are a consequence of fun activities such as swimming, and you should just accept the risks. If you don’t want to get a parasite, don’t go swimming. Oh, and refrain from eating most food, too. It’s your own fault if you eat food that hasn’t been completely checked for parasites, and end up having to host one.

Would you allow Jains to force you to carry parasites? Or would you fight them for control over your own body with everything you’ve got?

And how would you feel if a member of your secular community, a leading light, stood up and said, effectively, “Well, the Jains are wrong about forcing you to carry a parasite before it reaches a certain stage of development, but after that, parasites should not be removed. They can feel as much pain as an adult farm animal, therefore they should be allowed to grow.” How would you feel if that leader placed a parasite’s pain above your own, never even considered your pain as part of the equation – when that leader is immune to parasites and will never, ever have to face carrying one himself?

I doubt any of this will really get through to you, Richard. For you, it’s a thought experiment. For me and other uterus-bearing humans, it’s a distinct possibility. And we really don’t need men such as yourself coming along and throwing in with the make-pregnant-humans-invisible crowd, even partially. We’re fighting a hard enough battle without your misguided and flat-out wrong input.

I do hope you eventually take a moment to consider the fact that no other human beings are regularly forced to give up their bodily autonomy to have someone attached to and feeding from them for nine months. If you would refuse to have a person coupled with your body for an extended period of time, even to save their life; if you wouldn’t go into surgery today to donate half your liver or a kidney to an utter stranger who doesn’t even have a self-aware brain yet, much less the same hopes, dreams and plans that you do, why do you think you can blithely tell women to suck it up and give birth to a parasite? Pain is a ridiculous measure to go by. You’ll call me an absolutist, and think yourself superior for being otherwise, but I’m drawing the consequential line in a different place than you. I’m drawing it where the parasite is no longer physically attached. Then we can call it a baby. Then we can say that its life has equal worth, and that it must be cared for, if not by the birth mother then by someone else. Before that, all that matters is the person carrying it. That person can no longer be erased. Not by religious fanatics, not by social conservatives, and certainly not by you.

The whole picture is quite different, isn't it?

The whole picture is quite different, isn’t it?

Image badly modified by moi. Original here. Look, I’m no artist, m’kay?

Before you comment, read the policy. Know it. Respect it. Be aware I haven’t any patience with people who can’t see women, so if your comment erases women from the equation, elides important details, or in general annoys me, you won’t get through. There are some things not up for debate. Women’s status as full human beings is one of those.

Los Links: I Laughed, I Cried, They Became a Part of Me

Some of you will remember Los Links from back in the day when I could spend two days out of every week reading blogs, and then share the linky goodness with you. Life’s been too busy for a while for that, unfortunately. It should have been too busy tonight, but my brain said, “You know what? Fuck you. I’ve been thinking all day.” War at work, y’see: fighting to make things the best they can possibly be at an American megacorporation. It’s fun, and fulfilling, but taxing.

Thankfully, I had posts written (longhand) in advance, but my wrists said, “You know what? Fuck you. We’ve been typing most of the day.” So today ended with me lying about catching up on some freethought reading. If this continues tomorrow, I can bring you a roundup of recent geology posts. I suppose that won’t be so bad, now, will it? And then, on Wednesday, you will be guaranteed an original post of near-epic proportions, because we’re going to talk about why Mount St. Helens melted some bits but not all the bits on the cars. If we’re very fortunate, we’ll end up on Boing Boing again (thank you, Maggie Koerth-Baker!). I say we, because I wouldn’t have written up cars if it hadn’t been for you lot liking things like that, and as it turns out, you’re not the only ones. So, thank you, my darlings!

It’s not all happy fun times, alas. The thing with frequenting the freethought and skeptic blogs that I do is that Things That Are Not Happy get discussed, and if it weren’t for the bloggers and commenters restoring my hope for humanity, I’d have crawled off to a cave and become an official misanthrope by now. Between all of you, though, I am not willing to declare the vast majority of human kind irredeemable arseholes. Only a subset of it. Sigh.

There will be a humorous intermission, and loving comfort at the end. Stay with me.

Almost Diamonds: When You Already Are the Middle Ground. An important read, this, reminding us that people who are screeching for some “middle ground” between “the two extremes” haven’t quite noticed that one of those “extremes” is already the middle ground they’re howling for.

Being out of patience with the whole make-peace-with-the-howling-bigots sanctimonious shits, I’d like to recommend, in a calm and even voice, that they read the above post, and then please, if it’s not too much trouble, take their sanctimonious faux-peacemaking shit and stuff it in the orifice of their choice.

Love, Joy, Feminism: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Abortion Wars. I am inspired by Libby Anne’s post about her first experience as an abortion clinic escort. I’m inspired to start walking in to abortion clinics on days when protesters are present, just so I can shout at them, “Wow, thanks! I was just coming in for an ultrasound, but your signs featuring fake dead baby parts and your religious howling has inspired me to abort instead, because I don’t want to raise my child in a world featuring you assholes!” I’d love to see their dear little faces as they tried to compute that, and whilst we were facing off, some women could hopefully walk unmolested into the clinic for their procedures.

Skepchick: Ain’t I A Skeptic? This is just… I don’t even… I’m ashamed of humanity and any feminist who would complain that a woman isn’t a good enough feminist because she chooses to stay home with her kids. This is a reminder that feminism is about a woman’s choice, not about forcing her into a different set of narrow boxes. It’s also a reminder to white feminists such as myself that there are feminists of color whose experiences are different from our own, and we cannot shut them out. Why the fuck is it so hard for people to realize that mileage varies with varying degrees of privilege?

Blag Hag: Indiana high schoolers want to ban gays from prom. And just when the clueless gits within the skeptic/atheist communities have just about turned me off from speaking out against religion, because their toxic bullshit seems more or less equally toxic, along comes religion to remind me that, no, while people can be toxic bullshit-spewing arseholes no matter their creed, religion makes people just that much more likely to spew disgusting, hateful, poisonous shit. So, um, thanks for reminding me that religion is still a force worth fighting… and if you’ll excuse me, I wish to crawl into a corner and weep for humanity before I don my fighting trousers (thank you, Avi, for a memorable phrase).

Mah new battle standard.

Mah new battle standard.

I promised you a humorous interlude, and a humorous interlude you shall have.

Butterflies and Wheels: The wot is feminism chart. Funny-sad or sad-funny that anti-feminist tropes can be made into such a humorous and apropos chart? I think we should establish a drinking game based upon it.

Daylight Atheism: Why Atheists Should Care More About Education. We already do care, of course, and not just when creationists get frisky. But there’s so much poverty, and so many lost opportunities, and so many kids who need better chances. Give a child a bible, and they can be stuffed full o’ falsehoods. Give a child a good education and a bible, and they can say, “Wait. Just. A. Minute. WTF???”

Choice in Dying: Wafa Sultan and the Position of Women in Islam. Warning: contains women-as-property, pedophilia, little boys being taught that women are nothing but property that should remain silent, animal cruelty, and a charming hadith about the kinds of nasal secretions a wife is expected to lick off her husband’s face with her tongue. I’m sure I missed some trigger warnings for various forms of horrible misogyny, cruelty and sexual violence – but hey, Islam’s totes the religion of peace, amirite?

(Deep breaths. Deep breaths. Find a happy place… ah, here we go. I hope.)

WWJTD: Boggle on mental illness and “a cry for help”. I like this muchly. Makes me want to go handing out sticks.

As originally seen somewhere on Skepchick.

As originally seen somewhere on Skepchick.

And if you’re still needing something warm and fuzzy after all that, might I suggest Cats Hugging Things? Because it’s pretty damned hard not to squee at this.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back to avoiding absolutely everything by re-reading Marriage, a History and sniggering at all the “traditional” marriages therein.

Here’s What I Don’t Want to Do At Conferences

I’ve been seeing, in various and sundry threads on the matter, a lot of people babbling nonsense like, “Just report harassment to security and/or the police! And if they don’t take you seriously, look for someone who will!” This is their brilliant solution to the harassment problem. No policy needed! There’s cops and security guards. Problem solved!

There was also one person with apparently magnificent muscles who advocates a physical response, and suggested that Salman Rushdie, for instance, could have responded to a fatwa condemning him to death by gathering a gang and marching through the Iranian streets. This is only the most amusing amongst those who have proffered helpful advice along the lines of, “If someone bothers you, kick ‘em in the nads!”

(Note to the nad kicking advocates: I tried this on my rapist. He turned out to be very good at blocking.)

Nearly every thread is salted with such sage advice. But you know what? When I venture from my home and attend an event, I do not want to have to gather a gang and stage a Big Trouble in Little China scenario. I don’t want to wear steel-toed boots just in case any delicate bits might have to be prodded so as to emphasize the words, “You are being inappropriate. Go away.” I don’t want to spend the majority of my time there tracking down security guards and policemen and harried organizers in order to explain that some nimrod grabbed my boobs, and that I subsequently assaulted him on the advice of internet geniuses. I don’t want to spend time in jail because I took the advice of said geniuses, and this turned out to be a more egregious offense in the eyes of the authorities than the boob-grabbing.*

I want to enjoy the event in peace.

Now, it’s possible I’ll go to the conference with no harassment policy and be one of those lucky buggers who has nothing bad happen at all. I may not witness anyone being harassed. All may be peaches and pastry, with a little champagne on the side. But should the lottery return my number, I’d rather not spend the rest of the event pursuing justice. I paid to see talks and have a good time with like-minded individuals. I did not pay to put up with the shit I already have to put up with in public areas containing arseholes.

News flash for the terminally hard of thinking: most people attend conferences with broadly similar goals.

A good policy does several things that makes this experience likely to be a happy one for all but those who have an irresistible impulse to harass.

1. It lays out the ground rules. It sketches out appropriate behavior, so that everyone has the same expectations, and a clear idea of what’s acceptable and what is not. This tells potential harassers that their hijinks are not welcome, and will prevent some of them from going, and others from misbehaving.

2. For those who think the rules don’t apply to them, it gives victims good recourse. It’s not just a sheet of paper with marks upon it. It is backed up by people scattered throughout the conference who are readily available to report to. It spells out how such reports will be handled, and records such incidents for posterity. It ejects abusers and protects the abused.

3. It allows everyone to get on with the business of enjoying the conference or event reasonably harassment-free. This way, paying attendees who did not engage in inappropriate behavior don’t have their experience ruined by either having to tolerate jackasses, leave to avoid them, or spend inordinate amounts of time trying to get the situation taken seriously and taken care of.

4. Oh, and it covers the asses of the organizers. This is a bit critical. Legal protection is essential. So is telling your attendees, who have paid you cash money for a pleasant time, that their money shall not be wasted. This allows attendees to extol your virtues to other potential attendees, a not insignificant number of whom will choose to pay you cash money in the future for the pleasure of attending your event. This prevents attendees from finding it necessary to sue you in order to be compensated for what you had a responsibility to prevent but couldn’t be bothered to even do a half-arsed job at, much less make a good-faith effort. It’s called “good faith and due diligence.” Know it. Embrace it.

The genius thing about a good harassment policy is that it works for everyone. For instance, if I corner you during a mixer and imply I will kick you in the nads with my shiny steel-toed boots if you do not pay attention to me, you can flag down one of those handy conference people who are mixed in with the mixers and have them make me go away. It doesn’t matter if you’re a rough-and-tough man who could have simply picked me up and set me out of the way. You don’t have to risk being accused of assault and battery by handling the situation yourself.

Just to be clear, I would never harass anyone in this fashion. But I use myself as an example to show that such a policy is good for all attendees, not just those traditional targets of harassment.

This is it. This is the request that has stirred up such a shitstorm: have a policy in place that will prevent at least some harassment and deftly handle any that does occur, without blaming victims, without being unfair to the accused, without interfering with the fun of any except predatory fuckwits.

This is what some conferences haven’t yet done.

It bloody well boggles my mind.

As for those who propose roving gangs and brawling as an appropriate remedy for harassment, I suggest a course of vigorous brain exercise. I’m afraid those two lonely neurons of yours are wasting away from disuse.


*We will be discussing the danger of escalation in a future post. People who advocate a firm foot to the fruit as a solution to all problems apparently do not live in a world where this often leads to an unequal and opposite reaction. We, alas, do.


(Standard reminder for posts on sensitive subjects: First-time comments go automatically to moderation. Due to the vagaries of work and sleep, they may not be released immediately. Swearing and disagreement are fine, but keep it within bounds. Gendered epithets, misogyny, abuse of other commenters, and other misbehavior won’t be tolerated. You might wish to review the cantina’s comment policy before you comment. There are also ground rules for this discussion here.)

How Not to Handle Harassment

D.J. Grothe, president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, has a disaster on his hands. It didn’t have to be. There is a sentence he could have said at the very beginning, when folks were talking about the need for good, solid harassment policies at conventions and conferences. He could have said, “JREF takes harassment very seriously, and we will ensure a strong policy is in place to ensure speakers and guests are safe at TAM.” Then all he needed to do was to make sure an excellent policy was prominently posted, complete with reporting and enforcement procedures. Had he done so, two prominent women in the skeptical movement would not have withdrawn from TAM due to issues with his handling of harassment and threats.

This was never about TAM until he chose a different route. He chose to make it all about TAM. Those who already know the sordid history can skip this next bit, unless they wish to see D.J.’s spectacular fuck-up once again.

Observe this Facebook thread, wherein the possibility of a panel at TAM on sexual harassment was raised, and he responded thusly: “Hi Sophie, sounds like an interesting topic. But as you guessed, it is too late to add a panel to this year’s show. (The program is largely set many months out.) Also, I tend to agree with Barb that the topic seems sort of unrelated to JREF’s mission and the focus of TAM, scientific skepticism. Do you aim to debunk junk science in the field of sexual harassment or merely to educate folks and raise their awareness about the important topic?”

Please do take especial note of that “merely.” The hastily-appended “important” doesn’t balance it. “Mere” education and consciousness raising about the harassment and harm women endure has no place in D.J.’s organization.

Downstream in the thread, he says this:

“Last year we had 40% women attendees, something I’m really happy about. But this year only about 18% of TAM registrants so far are women, a significant and alarming decrease, and judging from dozens of emails we have received from women on our lists, this may be due to the messaging that some women receive from various quarters that going to TAM or other similar conferences means they will be accosted or harassed. (This is misinformation. Again, there’ve been on reports of such harassment the last two TAMs while I’ve been at the JREF, nor any reports filed with authorities at any other TAMs of which I’m aware.) We have gotten emails over the last few months from women vowing never to attend TAM because they heard that JREF is purported to condone child-sex-trafficking, and emails in response to various blog posts about JREF or me that seem to suggest I or others at the JREF promote the objectification of women, or that we condone violence or threats of violence against women, or that they believe that women would be unsafe because we feature this or that man on the program. I think this misinformation results from irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of sexism in skepticism, actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe, and I find that unfortunate.”

The amount of fail contained herein is unbelievable for the president of any organization, much less the flagship skeptic’s organization. And he piled fail upon fail. When you claim there were “no reports of such harassment,” yet you were the one personally throwing out at least one harasser, and you blame your falling numbers on the women who speak of TAM like it’s some sort of skeptic mecca while they raise funds for more women to attend, you are telling women that for all you may claim you give a shit about them, in reality, you don’t give a shit about them. Neither does the organization you lead.

And when your immediate response to the news that one of your speakers is withdrawing due to threats is, basically, “meh, that’s too bad,” no subsequent response will be adequate to preserve the tattered remains of your organization’s reputation. Not now. Not until after a very long, sustained, and strong commitment to fixing all the shit you fucked up in the first place. Only time will tell whether the damage is too severe for even those measures to work, assuming D.J. and the JREF care enough to try. Nothing I’ve seen from them so far leads me to believe they will make more than a token effort, wrapped in a few pretty words that manage, once again, to blame women for the problems they face.

I’ve seen in many comments threads resulting from Ophelia’s announcement that, due to threats, she would not be attending TAM, variations on the following question: “How are those threats TAM’s fault?”

They are the fault of the person who made said threats, of course. But D.J. created an environment in which such threats could not be reasonably expected to be taken at all seriously by anyone associated with TAM. This is the extent of any policy they have to deal with issues such as this:

Registration Policies

Prices are subject to change without notice. Refund policy: 50% of charged amount will be refunded if canceled by June 15, 2012. Audio/Visual Recording for personal use only. We reserve the right to refuse entry to anyone. Disruptive individuals will be asked to leave. Questions? Email

There is no harassment policy visible on their site. There is nothing spelling out how harassment will be handled, other than that “disruptive individuals will be asked to leave.” There is nothing explaining how and to whom incidents should be reported, what steps will be taken to ensure the comfort and security of attendees. No zero tolerance emphasized for threats or predation. And after watching D.J.’s demonizing performance over the past few weeks, after hearing nothing but thundering silence from the JREF board, after the viciousness displayed by supporters, after no policy other than those two pathetic sentences has been proffered when people have asked, “Where is TAM’s harassment policy? How will it address the obvious gaps in reporting and management that previous incidents at TAM revealed?” how can any person with two functional brain cells to their name possibly ask what responsibility TAM has for some of its speakers not feeling safe?

Conferences have a responsibility for the safety and security of their attendees. Good conferences take threats extremely seriously. They do not begin by creating an environment in which previous harassment is denied, and hence signaling to harassers that few, if any consequences will be faced. They do not achieve safety and security by creating the impression that victims are on their own, aside from hotel security, if they can even interest security in the situation in the first place. TAM did nothing to make a reasonable person believe they would do a damned thing to protect their guests. Why should their speakers expect more?

Tomorrow, realizing that a mild expression of regret is not the appropriate response to a speaker who is withdrawing because of threats, some JREF officials may decide to belatedly ask what they can do, and offer heightened security. That will be too little, too late. The immediate response to someone reporting that they have been threatened with harm if they attend is to do everything possible to mitigate the hazard and assure the world at large that threats are taken with utmost seriousness. Doing that later, when people have formed the opinion that TAM just doesn’t give a shit about women, gives the impression that it is reputation, not safety, that is foremost in their minds.

And if TAM treats its speakers with this kind of blatant disregard, what should I, as a mere female attendee, expect? I can tell you this: although I know many people who went to previous TAMs and had the best time of their lives, I won’t be going. Not now. Not since virtual carte blanche has been given to those who harass and those who harm. I can see for whom the green light shines. It isn’t shining on people who wish not to be harassed.

When your numbers drop to single digits, D.J., and you go searching for blame, you have only to turn to your mirror.



(Standard reminder for posts on sensitive subjects: First-time comments go automatically to moderation. Due to the vagaries of work and sleep, they may not be released immediately. Swearing and disagreement are fine, but keep it within bounds. Gendered epithets, misogyny, abuse of other commenters, and other misbehavior won’t be tolerated. You might wish to review the cantina’s comment policy before you comment. There are also ground rules for this discussion here.)

I Do Not Trust Edwina Rogers to Represent Our Interests

I’ve sat out the Edwina Rogers fiasco since the Secular Coalition of America announced they’d chosen her as their new Executive Director, waiting to see if my initial revulsion would pass. It hasn’t. I read the transcript of the interview she did with Greta Christina, and the entirety of her Ask Me Anything on Reddit, hoping she could somehow allay our fears and prove she’s capable of representing us effectively, despite her sordid history in Republican politics. But I didn’t have high hopes. Put it this way: I’ve learnt over the last decade that when one trusts Cons not to kick them in the teeth, they’d best have an excellent oral surgeon on speed dial.

Edwina’s managed to meet expectations: she outright lies, she avoids the hardest questions, she babbles nonsense in reply to most of the questions she deigns respond to without bald-faced lies. She is exactly what I suspected she was when I heard some absolute morons had chosen a Republican operative neck-deep in the Bush administration, yammered on Faux News, and who has donated generously to Rick bleeding Perry, to become executive director of the Secular Coalition of America: an unmitigated disaster.

Not all atheists are liberals, and I suppose it could be a good idea to get some secular conservatives on board at times – if they don’t end up compromising the values held by the vast majority of us. As several people have noted, a Republican lobbyist as part (not head) of the SCA isn’t such a horrible idea. And I rather think it would be nice to give the Rabid Right something to worry about from within its own ranks, so the idea of developing a coalition of secular Republicans and siccing them on the fundies actually tickles me. So no, I have no objection per se to having a Republican working with the SCA.

But surely, surely, the SCA could have chosen a better Executive Director than this Bushie. She can’t reach across the aisle to elected Republicans – the bunch currently in office here, there and everywhere are, overwhelmingly, theocratic freaks frantic to install god as our ruler. They’ve already demonstrated that they’ll abandon their own policies if a liberal expresses approval. And I cannot dismiss the fact that she actively supports some of the worst of them.

Not to mention she thinks she can pull a fast one on skeptics by outright lying to them, thus demonstrating a spectacular inability to understand the people she’s supposed to represent.

What good is she? How can she possibly represent our interests?

I’ve only one thing left to say, because Greta Christina summed up my thoughts quite well here. I just wish to tell the Secular Coalition of America that a group of people too bloody stupid to realize that choosing a former Bushie to lead them would be an utter catastrophe has not got my support. I’m ashamed of them.

Other views here at FtB:

The X Blog: Secular Coalition of America Hires ex Bush White House Advisor as Executive Director; Edwina Rogers on Energy Policy; Edwina Rogers on War in Iraq; Introducing Edwina Rogers (updated slightly); and Edwina Rogers and the Secular Coalition of America,

Almost Diamonds: Attempting the Impossible? and You Can’t Always Get What You Need

Camels With Hammers: A Republican to Head the Secular Coalition for America?; Edwina Rogers vs. Michael J. Fox; and The Pros and Cons of Hiring A Republican to Represent Secularists.

Butterflies and Wheels: A woman in secularism; So far so not good; That interview; Zing; and About the questions being asked.

Blag Hag: Controversy comes with the new Secular Coalition for America Executive Director and Ask Edwina Rogers anything on Reddit;

Pharyngula: Who is going to be our spokesperson on Capitol Hill?; Good questions, ____________ answers; and The crash test.

The Crommunist Manifesto: Edwina Rogers: the unanswered questions.

A Voice of Reason in an Unreasonable World: Secular Coalition For… The Right Wing GOP?

Greta Christina’s Blog: Edwina Rogers: Processing… processing…; Transcript of Interview with Edwina Rogers, New Executive Director for the Secular Coalition for AmericaTranscript of Interview with Roy Speckhardt, SCA Board, About Edwina Rogers, and Edwina Rogers.

Dispatches from the Culture Wars: The SCA’s New Leader.

The Atheist Experience: Thoughts on the SCA’s new Executive Director.

The Uncredible Hallq: On Edwina Rogers, the new Republican head of Secular Coalition for America.


*People prone to complain about FtBers weighing in on the SCA’s choice should first consult Lousy Canuck: The uniform groupthink of The Freethought Borg.

**A note on commenting for those who haven’t commented here before: First-time comments go automatically to moderation. Due to the vagaries of work, sleep and adventuring, I may not be able to fish them out for several hours, so please be patient. Feel free to swear. You’re welcome to disagree, and argue both for and against Edwina Rogers, but keep it within bounds. Gendered epithets, misogyny, abuse of other commenters, and other misbehavior won’t be tolerated. You might wish to review the cantina’s comment policy before you comment.

This Isn’t A Review of Victor Stenger’s New Book

God and the Folly of Faith. Cover Art credit Prometheus Books.

I’d actually like to do that book justice. I’ve read it. I’m still digesting it. I can tell you my foremost thought whilst reading it: “Damnit, Victor, I’m a geologist, not a physicist!” It’s been a long time since I’ve read up on physics. The middle chapters, in which he drills down pretty deeply into physics, put my brain through the kind of workout that still leaves you wobbly days later.

My second thought throughout most of the book was, “Ha ha ha, the quantum woo people are gonna hate this!” No mercy. No quarter. Beautiful.

However. Like I said, still digesting. I’ve got bits highlighted for further contemplation, and when I get a spare moment (ahaha I am teh funneh), I’ll scribble down a few notes and get round to saying something that might actually be vaguely interesting about it all and persuade you that you, too, must put your brain through the same experience as mine. Because you know you want to. Unless you’re a quantum woo person, or the kind of religious believer who sticks your fingers in your ears down to the knuckle and screams “Lalalalanotlistening!” until the bad heathen goes away, that is. In that case, you’ll probably hate it. But if you’re a science-loving sort who’s disgusted with the ways various religions and spiritual beliefs try to claim science totes vindicates their position, only to howl that science is nasty and reductionistic when it fails to support them, but then turn right round and claim that science just wuvs woo, then yes: God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion will suit you right down to the ground. Especially if, like me, you groan and roll your eyes whenever someone piously brings up NOMA.

Right. So. The reason I bring it up now, before I’m ready to write a deep and profound and, in places, mildly critical review (really, Victor? All the atheists who ever existed, and you couldn’t find one single solitary woman for your list of famous atheists? Really?), is because of this: Salon just published a howler of an article in which some jackass claims science supports near death experiences, and the afterlife is proved. Evidence: “like, y’know, this woman named Maria had this near death experience-”

And I’m all, “Stop. Just stop.”

I should not have to repeat the tired old “plural of anecdote is not data” line. The editors at Salon should already know this. But we’ll be generous and pretend they have not heard it, and the fact that a bunch of stories written up in fancy language is not science is a fact they were, until just now, unaware of. We will give them that slight benefit of the doubt. Then we will quietly hand them Victor Stenger’s new book, which could have saved them from experiencing massive amounts of embarrassment and publishing something which has made them look like Huff-Po (and if you know anything about Huff-Po’s tendency to publish the most gawd-awful tripe draped with sciency-looking words and attempting to pass itself off as science, which is about as convincing as someone putting a box over a bicycle, painting it gold, and calling it a Porche – hold on. This sentence is wandering off uncontrollably, so let me rephrase: if you know anything about Huff-Po’s tendency to publish rancid bullshit, you’d know that’s quite a lot of embarrassment, and is best avoided).

You see, Victor has a whole section dedicated just to Maria and the Shoe. We learn that not only can Maria and the Famous Shoe She Saw While Dead cannot be verified, we also learn that Maria’s Miraculous Seeing of the Shoe wasn’t actually miraculous. Not unless you count the fact that in the story, no one is reported to be blind, including Maria, and the famous shoe could be seen from her room.

I’m reminded of a line from the Qabus Nama, quoted in The Walking Drum: “Our senses perceive things which do not impinge upon our awareness, but lie dormant within us, affecting our recognition of people and conditions.” Yes, even people in the 11th century knew we sometimes notice stuff (like shoes on ledges visible from hospital rooms) which we don’t consciously realize we’ve noticed. People who really really want NDEs to be true, however, do not seem to know this. Intriguing.

So, yes, the Salon folks needed this book. They needed it badly. They needed it foremost for the section on NDEs, of which the anecdotal Maria’s anecdote is just one small part, one pellet in the buckshot cartridge that blows NDEs to smithereens as it were. They also needed it to help them figure out how to sift woomeisters from people who know what the shit they’re talking about. One of the first clues, which I don’t recall being explicitly stated in this particular book, but have learned from prior experience is a good rule of thumb: if someone co-wrote a book with Denyse O’Leary, you probably shouldn’t trust a single fucking thing they write ever again. (If you have no idea who Denyse O’Leary is, this sums her up quite well.) Victor provides many other clues. Together, they add up to a clue-by-four, with which editors everywhere should whack themselves when being presented with some pablum claiming science has “proven” some sort of spiritual bs. I mean, yes, it’s infinitesimally possible science will someday find cold hard evidence proving something we thought was supernatural – but there’s “evidence,” and then there’s evidence, and editors need to know the difference.

Since they don’t, you do. So I suppose what I’m saying is this: I’ve sort-of just reviewed Victor Stenger’s new book God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion; it’s not perfect but it’s extremely useful; and you should go read it forthwith. Especially if you like seeing Dinesh D’Souza and quantum woomeisters in general thoroughly paddled.

He’s a Sexist AND a Sockpuppet!

Why, this is adorable!

This comment appeared today on my open letter to Nature regarding that loathsome bit of sexist dumbfuckery known as “Womanspace.” It’s under the handle “Disappointed.” Observe how it appears to be a supporter of the author:

Amazing: someone writes something whimsical, which pokes fun at middle-aged men, and suddenly it becomes about stereotyping women?  Really??  You don’t think that possibly, just possibly, the author was attempting satire?
Ah, well – turns out I like the other two stories held up as being “problematic”, over on Contemplative Mammoth.  That HAS to label me, too.

Actually, Ed, it’s your comment’s metadata that labels you – as the bloody stupid author hisownself.

Sock puppets aren’t loved round these parts. But I’m loving it. I’m loving the fact you couldn’t come right out and defend your own story, but felt you had to drum up “outside” support. It’s precious.

And now I will turn you over to the tender mercies of my readers and my fellow Freethought Bloggers, who shall now do what they will.

Have fun, my darlings. No need to be gentle. He is, after all, wearing a sock.

Dear Nature: There is a Crucial Difference Between Being Contentious and Being a Misogynistic Asshole

Update: Bonus fun! “Womanspace” author Ed Rybicki has appeared in the comments, trying to sockpuppet himself some support under the handle “Disappointed.” Be sure to take this opportunity to speak your mind directly to the responsible party. Enjoy, everyone!

You may wonder what I’m doing here with a can of kerosene in one hand and a match in the other. Why, I’m about to burn a bridge.

Writers are typically advised against doing so, as the person you’re pissed at today may have been the person who’d publish you tomorrow. And yes, it would have been nice to be published alongside our own Stephanie Zvan someday, as I’d figured any publication wise enough to choose one of her stories might prove an attractive market for my own fiction, should I be fortunate enough to make the cut. However, there’s the matter of the other company I’d be keeping. I refer, of course, to the wretchedly sexist story “Womanspace” that appeared in your formerly-august pages in September. No, I won’t link to it. Interested readers will have no trouble finding it, by way of Dr. Anne Jefferson’s masterful takedown of it.

I gave the story a glance. It’s one of those stories in which a writer masturbates to the tune of exhausted stereotypes, and believes the resulting mass is original simply because it emerged from them, and they haven’t got out much. It contains the kind of overdone sexist humor that tickles the underdeveloped funnybones of men who are too inept to figure out teh wimminz. I understand the author’s wife giggled. I’m certain she did. If she hadn’t learned to laugh at her husband by now, she’d be a divorcee. A laughing spouse, however, is no guarantee of quality, a fact which writers who attempt to publish in professional fiction magazines soon learn to their sorrow.

Nature, of course, is not a professional fiction magazine, but only does a bit of fiction on the side, and so it is, perhaps, understandable that selling points such as, “My wife laughed, so it must be funny and not sexist!” could sway the minds of the editorial staff. Fiction is not your specialty, and I’m certain this explains why you ended up publishing a story based on ideas that weren’t even original in the 1950s and which an editor at a top fiction magazine would have considered worthy of pissing on only if the paper was absorbent, the restrooms out of order, and the only plant in the room a cactus. Usually, such stories earn a rapid rejection slip of the mass-produced variety. The editor (or, more likely, the editor’s slush pile reader, who exists to ensure such D-grade doggerel never sullies the editor’s eyes) would not even have bothered with a personal note scribbled on said rejection slip advising the writer to try harder in the future. They’d much prefer the writer never try again.

You may not have a slush pile reader, or pre-printed rejection slips with little checkboxes that include such categories as “Not original,” “Not science fiction,” “Not funny,” and “If you ever send anything to us ever again, we will send staff to egg your house and steal your dog.” I suggest you acquire both if you plan to stay in the fiction business.

Now, you may have heard Neil Gaiman say, “Being contentious is what you should be doing. You should be shaking people up” when he was speaking at the Chicago Humanities Festival in 2001. These wise words may have stayed with you, leading to this unfortunate incident in which you read a story, found it contentious, discovered yourself shaken, and mistakenly believed this meant it was Art. I know you were aware you were igniting a shitstorm, because one of your editors, Henry Gee, commented on the lack thereof. (Note to Henry: shitstorms take time to build when no one reads the fiction section you edit. Sorry.) So perhaps you all thought this was very clever and necessary, because this is what Art is all about: shaking people up.

You have overlooked the fact that there is a major difference between igniting a necessary shitstorm and an unnecessary one. There is a difference between being contentious for good reason and being contentious because you want attention, any attention, even negative attention, like a spoiled child feeling ignored by Mummy.

Allow me to lead by example: there are some posts I write which I know will rile people. I post them because I believe that calling out religion or other silly beliefs is the right and necessary thing to do. You will not, anywhere in these pages, find me posting something noxious for the sake of driving traffic. I could, for instance, post a bit of misogynist doggerel while calling it humorous, and I’m certain that the resultant outrage would enhance my page views considerably. In the short run, that is.

If you did, in fact, know that you were posting a bit of sexist idiocy and did it merely because you wanted to drive some traffic, congratulations. It has worked – in the short run. In the long run, you risk people believing that this one piece reflects your true views on women. I would like to believe that’s not the case, but considering Henry Gee’s history in this regard, I think it’s safe to say at least one editor among you is likely harboring some seriously pathological thoughts toward women. It is time for you to reconsider this editor’s relationship with your company. I’m afraid if you don’t, well over 50% of your readers shall be reconsidering their relationship with you.

Additionally, it behooves you to find someone less inept at handling public relations fiascoes. I refer, of course, to the fact that some buffoon(s) shut down comments on the piece of D-list doggerel in question, and managed to delete the Facebook posts criticizing it. I’m sure both actions were accidental. Just as I am sure you will be thrilled to purchase my oceanfront condo in Yuma, Arizona. (Perhaps you would also be interested in a bridge to replace the one I’ve just burnt. If so, I have a true Brooklyn original at a screaming-hot price.)

I hope this discussion has proved helpful to you in your future endeavors with Futures. I myself shall not be reading it again until Henry Gee’s departure at the earliest, but perhaps one or two other readers remain who enjoy fiction with that retro 1950s-sexism feel. If you have no intention of removing “Womanspace” from your list of publications, plan to retain Henry Gee, and wish to ignite further shitstorms with added misogyny, I’d suggest you advertise on ERV. That seems to be where all the kool he-man woman haters hang out these days. You’ll find plenty of women there who, for reasons mystifying to the well-adjusted, love to hate teh wimminz too. Deplorable company all round; I’m sure you’ll fit right in. That is certainly one possible future for Futures.

If, however, you wish to remove this blot on Nature’s good name, then this is my advice: get rid of that shit-stain of a story, boot Henry Gee out, and apologize immediately. Then learn more about the art of discerning between fiction and items that should be instantly binned. I am certain you will find the links curated by The Contemplative Mammoth and Science Sushi, along with the #womanspace hashtag on Twitter, helpful in this regard. Additionally, Strange Horizons maintains a list of stories too often seen to usually be worthy of consideration. As you found “Womanspace” to be new and interesting, I suspect you should refer to the above resources in order to avoid publishing pieces in the future that lack originality or, indeed, any artistic merit whatsoever.


Dana Hunter